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Welcome to my blog! Of course if we were visiting in person, I'd have the teapot out and we could sit and chat.
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Sunday, September 29, 2013

I call myself a Christian

  Been thinking a lot about labels recently.

  Mother.  Woman.  Daughter.  Grandmother.

  Artist.  Chaplain.  Writer.

  How do we identify ourselves?

  And yes.  I call myself Christian.

  I've thought a LOT these last years about what that really means.  When I am questioned on it, I will say, "I am a follower of Christ".

  The word, the label Christian has had a lot of bad press.  And some for very good reasons.  I hear the stories often, in my work.  People wounded, mostly by the church.  And the church can encompass any number of denominations.  And some of these folks become jaded, angry, and want nothing to do with religion.  When I hear some of their stories, I honestly can't blame them.

  I shared a quote recently that talked about a lot of great leaders... Ghandi, Jesus, Buddha.  I thought about that later... if I quote something from Buddha, does that make me Buddhist?  Hardly!

  And I would hope that if someone would ever think to quote yours truly, that does not make everything I believe or say true...  no, I am a work in progress, learning, exploring, listening.  Following.

  And the one I do follow is Christ.  It is personal.  It is holy.  It is real.

  There have been so many things been done in His name that are hardly Christian at all...

  I often think about how he came and hung out with the poor, the sick, those who struggled.  His harsh words were for religious leaders who thought they knew it all...

  He called us to love... the greatest command was to love and know God... a lifetime adventure.  The second was to love others... as myself.

  Instead I have been witness (and been guilty myself) of a religion based on judgement and fear.  Sometimes superiority.

  How do I change that?  I think by listening to others.  Jesus created a level playing field... there was no competition.  Slave or free, male or female, rich or poor..... He loved them all.

  Oh I have my questions.  I think we all do.  Some things I'm not sure we will figure out this side of heaven.  I struggle with suffering.  But I have come to understand that He is present in it.  He wept, and weeps with us.  And someday, I believe it will become clear.

  So, I call myself a Christian.  A work in progress.  On a spiritual journey that is filled with faith, hope, sometimes discouragements, but ultimately, a deep assurance that I am loved.  And that I can love in return.
Not better than anyone, just a human, in love with her Creator.



Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Feeling it...

  I've been "feeling it" this week... and thinking about how our feelings and emotions factor into our daily lives.  How do I own that?  How do I process it?

  I recognize that there are some who feel more deeply than others.  There are the male/female factors which are significant, but often stereotyped.

  There are those who have high thresh-holds of pain, and feelings of pain and emotion are more suppressed; sometimes this can serve people well, at other times, it is downright dangerous.

  I know people (and have experienced this myself) who can physically feel the pain of others.  That is not always an easy burden.

  I have a very wise friend who told me that I was a burden bearer.  And so I needed to take care of myself, needed to learn and play and have fun, or my serious side would take over and rule my life.  And burn out would be a constant companion.

  Sometimes easier said than done.

   As I thought about these things, I heard of a number of new difficult diagnosis this week, tough news for those facing serious illness.  I heard the deep pain of another, in a difficult situation.  I see people in the cancer ward, facing their battles.  I see the exhaustion of the helpers...

  I see it in our own family.  Our grief as we continue to process the death of our mom.  I see young mothers with toddlers, babies, sleep-deprived, and I remember those days well.  And I think about it, when I lie awake at night, praying, thinking, and trying to force my stubborn body back to slumber.

  Oh, the feelings are real.  I know what it is to feel pain, to experience despair.  And if I am not careful, it can be all consuming.

  As I tried to help one young man this week, I shared that it could be a matter of focus.  Yes, the feelings are real, and must be acknowledged.  I don't think denial ever serves us well.

  And yet, it is good to focus on the good, the beautiful, the hopeful. To bend my mind in another direction.

 I had fun walking through a farmer's field today, therapy for me.  Beautiful big red peppers, strewn on the ground, begging to be picked.  The smell of the dirt, the miracle of harvest, the sun on my back, the autumn wind cooling my cheeks.

  And I picked those babies and brought them home and put them in jars... preserving hope, sunshine, colour.

  And as fall descends, and life goes on, and the cycle of life and loss remain, I again acknowledge the feelings...the good and difficult... and choose to be thankful, to keep on keeping on, to keep pursuing hope, and finding lots to be grateful for.

 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Words that define us

So I'm lying awake, early in the morning, thinking about the power of labels.

 This week it has been about being a mom, a grandma, a daughter.

  Mom has been gone three months now. Yesterday, as they remembered her at hospice, with all the others who had died in the last several months, I was so aware of her presence, her influence in my life. And I missed her terribly.

  And as I've held our newborn granddaughter this week and cuddled and kissed and sung the same lullabies we sang to mom when she was so sick, I've had lots of time to ponder.  I watch the interactions of my own daughter and her tow-headed little boys and I see myself in them, and remember.

  The circles of life.

  And. I think, does this define me?

  And it is true that for many women, their identity can be wrapped up in their role of parenthood.
 
  And it is also true that the deepest joys and also pain flow from those relationships. When we are close, we are happy, content. When things go wrong, the heart hurts. And when we are separated, we are bereft.

  Everyone has a mother. Not all have children. This too can be an immense grief for those who long to have a child. It seems that sometimes we have put the labels of womanhood and mothers so closely together that when one isn't realized there is a feeling of brokenness. How I feel for those who are barren. Even the label, the word, seems unkind, empty.

  But back to labels. What defines us?

  In our broken world, we will be disappointed.  WE will disappoint.

  As I continue to come to terms with my own humanness, my brokenness, I also see beauty in a new way. God the Father, who is also pictured as a Mother in the scriptures gives me a different label.

It is not based on what I do, or the labels I define myself with.

In fact, we are usually our worst enemies. Words and labels like "fat, lazy, unproductive, ugly" and there are many others can become part of damaging self-talk that can permeate our minds.

  But our Creator has a different label.

  It is "beloved".

  Not for what I do or say or am or what I accomplish.

  Beloved.

  And as I sit with that thought,,, and receive it as a gift, this name "beloved" is the label, the name, I need to own above all others.

  For it frees me to be me, to receive love, and to love fully.

Monday, September 16, 2013

True Expectations

   It has been a while since I read "Great Expectations", that great novel by Charles Dickens, where the orphan Pip faces poverty and obstacle after obstacle.

  I've seen in the last few days a number of articles and had a number of conversations where the focus was on expectations.  A fascinating subject.

  Because we live in a culture of expectations.

  We expect to live a long life.
   We expect to live and good and healthy life.
    We expect to be happy.
      We expect that we deserve it all... the house, the car, and all the latest gadgets.

  I believe in Hope.

  But I'm starting to think that expectations, good or great, can be incredibly disappointing.  Even crippling.

  I think about that when I sit by the bedside of someone who likely will not get well... and it is not that I don't believe in miracles.  But I do believe in life... and death.

  Someone said again to me today, from their hospital bed... we all have to die.

  We really don't like to think about it.

  I was in my late thirties when a dear friend died suddenly in an ambulance accident.  She was married.  She had four kids at home.  And suddenly, abruptly, she was gone.

  It shook me to the core.  I remember the evening of her death, as friends and family gathered at our church to sit and pray and just support each other, the youth pastor said to me "Life is hard... and then you die."

  I thought about it again some years ago, when my elderly grandmother-in-law sat day after day, struggling in her circumstances in a nursing home.  "These golden years are not so golden!", she'd tell me.  "They are downright rusty!!".

  I was reading some of Ann Voskamp's writing today and she quotes her mother as saying:  "Expectations kill relationships.".  

  I've been thinking about that all day...

  My expectations of God.  Of others.  Of myself.

  Is it realistic?  Or do my expectations become my demands?  And when life doesn't turn out, as I expected it might, and I am faced with disappointment, can I truly say, I trust you God!  And i focus on the treasures I have and focus on the blessings...

  It is holding hands open... instead of clenched.

  I quoted that verse today, to someone who had been facing difficult circumstances this week... reminding me of where it says "In this world you will have trouble... but I have overcome the world."

  That old song comes to mind.."Put your hand in the Hand of the Man who stilled the water."  It is about relinquishment.  (not always easy!)  And trust.  Which in the end, brings peace.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Learning to love... Myself.

   The title goes against the grain.  The way I learned to think.

   Because loving myself seemed selfish, inward.  And not terribly Christian.

   But the more I grow up, the more I realize that I have missed something.  That I misunderstood this concept.  That it wasn't all about JOY, the acronym I learned as a child, which spelled out says "Jesus first, Others second, and You (myself) last.

  I've had no trouble loving God.  I know not everyone can identify with that, but I am thankful it has been true for me.  But I have had a lot of trouble loving me.  And I know I am not alone.  (now that could be taken two ways!!)  But I do believe that many people struggle with loving or even liking themselves.

  And sometimes we don't even really KNOW ourselves!

  It was transformational for me three years ago when I had to confront this head on.  I held my worth in what I did, in who I was, in what I had achieved.  And it was all crumbling.  It was then, and only then, that I began to glimpse how much God loved me... not for anything I had done, or accomplished, or who I belonged to.

  Part of the exercise was to really look at myself, flawed, with weakness and strengths.  And start to accept and love the whole package.

  Unique, created, loved.

  And as I continue to learn to live in this way of thinking it has helped me to also love others more.  With less judgement.  More acceptance.  More love.

  This isn't about self-exultation.  Or being self-absorbed.  No, it is about acceptance.  Understanding.  Being OK with being fully human.  Self-care so that I have freedom to care for others.

  I'm reminded of the greatest commandment.  To love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and strength... and the second?  Is to love your neighbor (your friends, those around you) as yourself.  

  Old habits die hard.  But I was thinking about this a lot this week.  Sometimes we have to practice kindness to ourselves.  And I thought perhaps it was worth sharing...

  We are loved enough to be called children of God... lovely.



Friday, September 6, 2013

Balancing Joy and Lament

  I had this picture in my mind today... of someone balancing on one leg, arms outreached to heaven.  It is a peaceful pose, even worshipful.

  I've tried to balance on one leg, and it is an exercise in amusement.  It is great for practicing my balance, but invariably I teeter, and totter, and finally give up.  It is easier to do when the conditions are right.

  Life is a balancing act.  To keep things in balance when all is well is one thing.  But then the storms do come...

  Last night I was awoken in the early morning by a storm... as many were, from conversations I had today.   The thunder shook the house, and the lightening sent streaks of light beaming into our open window.  And then the rain came, with the wind, intense in its fury.

  It was good to be inside, warm, snug and just listen and watch.

  After a while I fell asleep... and awoke to peace.  The sun was shining, patches of blue, with promises of warmth, birds singing, the air smelling fresh.  I was reminded of Lamentations 3 where there is great descriptions of darkness and trouble and then the writer declares:   "Great is His faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning".  

  There is a time for lament.  And Lamentations 3 has become one of my favourite passages of poetry.  There is no denying the darkness, the struggle, the questions; they are all there.  And then comes hope.

  One of my favourite authors and spiritual mentors is Henri Nouwen.  He writes much about death and life, and how we hold them both... every day.  We don't deny death and its reality, but we constantly have a choice... to choose to live.

  I think this is where the balancing act comes in.  While we acknowledge the sad, the challenges, the questions, the uncertainties, we also can choose life.  To choose joy, to cherish moments, to spread happiness through smiles, hugs, acts of kindness.  To see beauty all around us.  To value one another and love unconditionally.

  And there will be times when we become off balance.  The storm will hit.  We feel the pain.  And that is when we live by hope and trust, in a God who cares.  Who knows my name.